Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Becoming Centaur

While our first attempt was a misguided flop, I started riding Coro about a year after I got him.  Our riding relationship would be the longest and most influential, carrying me into adulthood and inspiring my education.


I first tried riding him in January, 1993. It was the day of my grandfather's funeral, and wanting distraction and perhaps all feeling a bit reckless, we decided on the way home in the car that I should get on him. I hadn't been working with him as often through the winter, but we reasoned that I'd at least have a soft landing in the deep snow that covered our pasture. It was a family project: my mom held him, my dad boosted me up onto his back...and Coro hunched up and launched me before I even had my leg all the way over. I landed softly, sure enough...about five feet from the tractor's plow blade. Coro knocked my mom down and gave her a black eye, probably with an errant hoof.  It was admittedly stupid, but it was certainly a distraction, and it gave us something to laugh about, even years later. I didn't get on him again that day, or even soon after. I didn't let him "buck it out," I didn't "break him."  I understood that neither of us were ready, and re-focused on his ground work.

I spent the spring saddling, unsaddling, long-lining, leading him through mazes of ground poles and leaning over his back. We played hide & seek and I got him to follow me over ditches and small jumps in the pasture. I remember one day when he trotted alongside me as I jogged down the driveway to get the mail. It made me so happy that he liked my company and wanted to be near me when he had freedom of choice. I took him on walks around the neighborhood and my rancher neighbors would chide "When are you going to ride that horse?"

 Winter walk

We did have some setbacks and mishaps. Coro was a handful (still can be) - he could be spooky, he was stubborn and was, simply, a four-year-old.  He broke enough hitching posts, halters, even pulling a section of a telephone pole out of the ground that finally I gave up on tying him (he hasn't been tied since).  Many would say I should have put him in cross ties or tied him to an inner tube wrapped around a tree – put him in a situation that he absolutely could not get out of, and force him to fight until he was exhausted, or worse. They would have said “good riddance” if he injured or killed himself in the process. I couldn't take the chance of him getting hurt.  In my mind, Coro told me, time and time again, that he could not be tied - that it struck fear into his heart.  . I remember a lot of evenings sitting in his corral crying, wondering if I really ever would ride him. We considered sending him to a Paso Fino trainer in Farmington, NM, but when I saw the dim little stall he'd be kept in and imagined anyone but me on his steely silver back I couldn't go through with it. I kept wondering dreamily what his canter would feel like. I read Dominique Barbier's book, Dressage for the New Age, which I'd ordered through inter-library loan and was unlike anything else I'd encountered. It talked about riding visually, letting the horse's personality and mindset guide the training, and it inspired me to press on through the frustration. Training Coro myself, however unconventional and flawed, remains one of my proudest achievements. 

Finally after working with him all year, listening and strengthening our bond, I felt like we were ready.  By the time I got on him that summer, it was completely uneventful and our real partnership began. He was so comfortable with me on his back that he would startle when I dismounted or the few times he "accidentally" ejected me. He would look at me with alarm as if to say "What are you doing down there?!" Our rides got longer and longer, he was happy and bold, going wherever I led, and soon I was taking him for gallops on the clay where I'd once raced with Misty. Watching the world race by from the back of my silvery horse became a reality at last. 

 First real ride - what a happy day!

First on his back, and still mainly the only person to ride him -  my perpetual favorite, always making me smile with his sweet expression and playful attitude. One of my favorite memories of him is riding bareback during a thunderstorm - not the smartest thing, but I was determined to ride that day and we traced gleaming circles in the wet pasture under dark flickering clouds while rain sprinkled his coat. He was trusting and unafraid - it felt as if we were part of the earth and sky. Our journey together, like his coat changing from gleaming pewter to speckled platinum, is ever transforming. 

 Good Boy


  1. It's wonderful that you listened to your horse, and planned your training based on his needs, not someone else's timetable. Good for you!

  2. I love the idea of waiting until you are both ready and you didnt allow someone else to set your pace. Riding should be a release not a stressful ordeal.
    Your horse is beautiful and im sure you guys have such an amazing bond.

    1. Thank you so much for the follow and comment - he is a special boy.

  3. It's always good to hear other riders doing what their horse needs and not what others say to do. And riding in weather is always fun... especially if you have a horse with brain.